Tag Archives: Software

SCRAP Photo Editor 1.2 Review

Kea Sigma Delta software logo
Kea Sigma Delta software

I was contacted by the nice folks at Kea Sigma Delta in Wellington, New Zealand, to do a review of their product SCRAP Photo Editor 1.2, which is currently only available on Windows XP, Vista, 7 & 8, and appears to be only a 32-bit application.

When I arrived on the site, keasigmadelta.co.nz , to download my free version of SCRAP Photo Editor 1.2, I am immediately told, that SCRAP is an acronym for Scale, Crop, Rotate and Publish, along with a very flashy 50 second YouTube video, extolling the virtues of the program.

Downloading the application is simple enough, but when I got to the point of Installation, I had to be especially careful, because of all the additional “Special Offers” that are included during the installation script.

When the First “Special Offer” window popped up, my security concerns were raised immediately, especially when the offer is for something called “SpeedyPC”. I do not wish to knock down this product, but it is not one that I normally run across. I did selected the Skip button to continue.

I was immediately confronted with the Second “Special Offer” for “blindbat”, again an application I’ve never heard of, that was even more forceful, in the sense, that it popped up a secondary window asking if I was sure that I wanted to skip the installation. Needless to say I declined.

Then there was the Third “Special Offer” (TidyNetwork) at which point I was seriously considering jettisoning the whole installation process, but I continued to the Fourth “Special Offer” (YAC (Yet Another Cleaner)), and finally into the main installation, which eventually launches your browser to a final “Congratulatory” page, thanking you for the installation.

Initial user experience – Very Poor

Once I was in the main program, I took a look at Task Manager and noticed that SCRAP had a small footprint of about 55 MB.

From there, I opened up a simple PNG file that I had recently done from the screenshot, to test out the basic capabilities of SCRAP.

Scale – In my current task, I did not need to do any scaling, but I did double-click on the scaling tool and was pleased to see an advanced set of tools presented in a simple dialog box.

Crop – Since cropping was the main nature of my task at hand, this tool was immediately put to use. I found it to work very similarly to those provided by other programs, but it was pleased to note, that after the cropping has been performed, the original image has not actually been cropped, i.e. non-destructive, until you save out the final file. A simple double-click of the crop tool, will also bring up the advanced dialog box, filled with numerous easy controls.

Rotate – I did not mean much use of the rotate tool during my testing, but the illustrations done in the video tutorials offer some very helpful tips on using the tool.

Publish – The most observable Publish tool, directs one to the Zazzle website, that offers photo based gifts, such as mugs and T-shirts. The Secondary publishing, is done by being able to saving various file formats (BMP/DIB/RLE, EXR, GIF, HDR, JPEG (2000), PBM, PGM, PNG, PPM, TARGA, TIFF), which still needs to be attached to a Posts or email, i.e. No Right Click and a Context menu pops-up to allow you to do whatever.

Conclusion –

After the initial irritation of the installation, SCRAP does what it sets out to do.

It can open up some 30 different file formats, perform very rudimentary geometric edits, and then quickly saves files back out, in a variety of formats, to be used by another application.

Will I keep this application on my computer after this review, very doubtfully.

Why?

I am already at Adobe software user, and I normally have either Lightroom or Photoshop open at any given time, so for me to have something like SCRAP, involved in my workflow, seems rather pointless.

If you need a quick utility to convert one file format to another and don’t have money to spend, then SCRAP may be of interest to you.

If you’re scanning software does not provide these fundamental functions, then definitely you should investigate further usage of this product.

I hope you enjoyed my review, or found it at least interesting, please feel free to leave me a comment in the section below.

- Andrew
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It has been 10 days with Loong

It has been about 10 day, since I first started setting up this machine (Loong), and I thought I would give you a quick update on what has been going on.

In the early morning hours of August 5th, I placed my order with Amazon.com

and went to bed.

Later on in the morning, my inbox was full of confirmation emails telling me when to expect the various packages over the course of the next few days.

Wednesday morning, the 7th, the first set of boxes arrived, and when I checked my email, it suggested that the rest of my shipment would be at the house by the end of the day!

Talk about excited!

I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon, reviewing various videos on how to build your machine from scratch, taking particular interest in the application of the CPU thermal heat paste amount. (One of my nervous points)

Between picking up the kids from play dates, and getting dinner on the table, I was not able to finish my build until early evening, and that is when my first hopes were dashed.

The machine would not boot.

After doing my basic troubleshooting, and communicating with several people online, it was determined that the most likely culprit, was the motherboard.

A replacement board was ordered immediately and confirmation notices suggested that by late Friday afternoon, I might be able to begin again.

Now all I could do was wait…

Tick tock… Tick tock…

All I could hear in my head, was Carly Simon’s “Anticipation” song…

FINALLY, around 4 PM the new motherboard arrived!

It was easy for me to reassemble the machine in record time, since I’d had so much practice only hours before…

Then it was the moment of truth… Pressing the on button, I saw the motherboard LED codes change in the CPU fan fire up!

It was finally a success in getting the hardware to work, and I was off for a long night of installing software!

Configurations

I tried two different configurations, especially since I had nothing to lose.

SSD for operating system only –

In this configuration, the goal was to set up the SSD with only the Operating System (Win 7 64-bit), and using the HDD for Applications and Data.

In theory, this would be the fastest configuration on this box, but as I thought about it, and read reviews of the possibly quiet and deadly malfunctions of SSD drives, I decided to reconfigure the box for something a little bit more practical in the event of a failure.

I did not want to rebuild this machine anytime soon.

That being said, and since it was so early in the morning, I decided to download the various patches from Windows update, and returned to the machine when I woke up later.

Saturday – My eagerness to play with my new machine woke me early, and I scurried down stairs to my office with a pot of coffee.

I woke up the box, and was happily greeted with no error messages, but I rebooted the machine, and in standard Microsoft fashion, more updates needed to be installed.

More patching ensued, and the only bottleneck was my access to the Internet, and my kids streaming their various shows from YouTube.

It was amazing that once the files were downloaded, their installation screens zipped across the monitor to the point of not being able to be read the dialog box titles; what use to take minutes on my old machine, now took seconds!

Playing a little more, and seeing the incredible “zippy-ness”, I finally ran the benchmark again, and was very surprised to see it only ranked in the mid-fives.

Now I was on to creating a new configuration that offered more reliability in case the SSD failed.

Hybrid SSD-HHD –

One of the technologies included in the Intel Z87 chipset, is the ability to take advantage of Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology, in which you use both a SSD and HDD drive in conjunction to form a hybrid of the two technologies.

Basically, you install your operating system, in a normal manner, onto the HDD, and after all the RST RAID drivers are installed and operating system is updated and rebooted, you are ready to play.

There was a little catch that I did not pick up on when I was initially configuring my purchase, but I have been able to take advantage of it, as I will describe later.

When configuring the RST RAID drive (or cache drive), there is a limit of 64 GB, which left me with 50% my SSD drive still unused, which initially had me irritated for over purchasing the 128 GB SSD drive in the first place.

After quickly configuring the RST RAID, and rebooting I was now able to “see” the technology in action.

At first, it was definitely faster than running on the HDD alone during the initial set up, but not as “snappy” as the pure SDD OS install.

It does seem to be getting quicker as I move along, and that is what is to be expected in this type of configuration.

The SSD drive, will slowly “learn” about the most commonly used files and cache them to disk. The HDD is now termed “enhanced” on the motherboard’s RAID controller.

In regards to reliability of this configuration, the thinking is, that if the SSD drive fails, the only files that are lost are cached files.

The main “live” data still resides on the HDD drive!

Simple! – (I am keeping my fingers TIGHTLY are crossed now!)

As an amusing little side note, in both configurations, after I installed the base OS, without any Drivers or Updates, the built-in Microsoft App only rank the machine as a 1, but eventually did reach a 7.4.

Current Configuration

As I set off into this new adventure, I have configured my storage drives as follows:

  • SSD1 (128 GB) – RST drive
  • HDD1 (1.0 TB) – Enhanced (WDC Black) (Internal)
  • HDD2 (1.5 TB) – Seagate Barracuda 7200 – Backup 01 (Internal)
  • HDD3 (1.0 TB) – WDC Green – Backup 02 (Internal)
  • HDD4 (2.0 TB) – WDC Green – Backup 03 (External)

And (2) ODDs, which should hold me over for a while..

As it stands now, I only have about 500+ GBs of “live” data that I’m worried about, and this is the first time that I’ve actually had the space on one drive to put everything!

Consolidation of files – It should now be very easy since I’m only dealing with one main directory, and this will make writing a Robocopy backup script incredibly easy!

Installed Software

Google Chrome –

I have not mentioned this until this point, but this is the first time I’ve been able to install the Microsoft operating system, without using Internet Explorer!

Why?

It is because the Asus Z87-Pro mother support DVD, includes and installs Google Chrome, which is VERY nice!

Yes, when I ran Windows update, I did patch, to the best of my knowledge, Internet Explorer, but I have yet to launch it in any way shape or form.

Mozilla Thunderbird –

Talk about installers dream!

I was able to quickly download install the Thunderbird application, and after an initial launch, I exited the program in hopes of establishing the base directory structure.

On a whim, I thought I would try to take my existing Thunderbird email directory from Dragon, and copy it across the network, into the same location in Loong.

Being an old Microsoft Outlook 2007 user, I thought there would be no way this would work, and I’d have to spend time reconnecting my POP accounts and individual PST mailbox files.

To my amazement, when I relaunched Thunderbird the second time, everything popped up right where it should!

That was about an hours worth of configuration and headaches that I didn’t have to encounter!

Adobe Lightroom 5 (64-bit) –

Adobe Lightroom 5 (64-bit) was the first major application that I installed onto Loong.

Since I had already been running LR5 on Dragon, there was nothing really new or interesting yet, I still had not transferred my catalogs or images files, which were still on a backup hard drive.

Adobe Photoshop CS6 (64-bit) –

This was the application I had built this machine for.

You don’t get an Intel i7-4770 for basic word processing.

With that being said, Adobe has made it rather difficult to actually find CS6 for download on their site, which makes sense, when you consider that they are really pushing their new Cloud Computing environment.

In the final hours of configuring the system for software, I thought about CS6 vs CC many times, and it came down to what do you have at the end of your expenditure of money.

Basically, once you stop your subscription to the Adobe cloud, you can’t Open your files, whereas in the purchase of CS6, I still have an application “locally”, and I can do what ever I want with my images. I am not potential held ‘hostage’.

I do plan in the future, to look at and use their single application subscription, but for an application like Photoshop, I feel far more comfortable having a local installation of the software application.

Nuance Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 –

I have been using Dragon NaturallySpeaking since the late version 10 days, and have always had a sort of love-hate relationship with the software and the company.

Originally, I wanted to try to use my existing version 11 license, but was thwarted when I could not find the 11.5 upgrade file in my backups.

One would think, it would be a simple matter of going to Nuance’s Support page, and download the update, especially as a registered user, but I had forgotten that you lose all support after the initial 30 days of owning the software, and there was no way for me to download the patch.

So I spent several days lamenting on whether I should ‘bite-the-bullet’ and purchase a new license for Loong.

Searching the internet, I was able to find an online deal where I got a new seat for only $75 after various rebates!

After the software arrived, I eagerly installed it, only to find that I had to download a service pack, which is no big deal, per se, if the service patch was in 500 MB to be downloaded!

I also made sure that I backed up the Service Pack file this time, and at the moment, I have not registered.

Once I had Dragon finally patched, I started a new user profile, and I have been using it to create this blog entry, and so far it has been working out very well in terms of speed and accuracy, and as I use it more, it should get better.

Final tweaking

As the title of this blog entry suggests, I’ve been playing around with my system for about 10 days.

I still have not gotten into some of the deeper aspects of the fine tuning of the OS, mainly because the machine is very quick and responsive.

I have copied all my 500GBs of live data from Dragon onto the C drive of Loong, and reestablishing connections in my Lightroom catalogs.

Moving in and out of the various image directories and watching the thumbnails snap up on the screen is very exciting.

I have opened a few of bigger 800+ MB files into Photoshop, there is no hesitation as they jump up on the screen, as I zoom in and out!

Crunching HDR files together is very quick, and should save me countless hours in the future!

WOW!

Then it occurred to me while playing, but I still had some of my SSD disk available to me.

I opened up Disk Manager (diskmgmt.msc), and initialized the remaining SSD partition.

Going back into both Lightroom in Photoshop, I set their cache options to the newly created SSD partition, and relaunched the applications.

Now that it’s fast!

Conclusion

In reading the various manuals, how-to guides, tips and tricks, there is still a lot of things for me to explore and learn on this new machine.

I will continue to post new tidbits as they become available, so do stay tuned!

- Andrew
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Building Loong (Dragon i7-4770)

I have finally gotten to the point, where I am just waiting between downloads for the various Drivers and Updates…

Earlier, I put this together:

This all started, kind of… A couple of days ago

All part of a new installation…

Here is a quick Overview, which I was Posting on Facebook and Twitter –

[2013-Aug-09 Fri 12:00ish]
– USPS Delivers New Motherboard (Asus P87-Pro)

[2013-Aug-09 Fri 13:30ish]
– Motherboard boots outside of case

[2013-Aug-09 Fri 14:30ish]
– I’m in the BIOs!

[2013-Aug-09 Fri 15:49ish]
– COOL! – NO MORE FLOPPY! [EL – Oh I’m glad your cialis arrived!]
[AM – Is that no more 5.25 or no more 3.5″? ;-)]
[Me – Only Firewire & USB over that SATA 3…
Now we are calling gigabytes!]
[JQ – It is all about the thumb drive]
[Me – I got plenty of Front and Rear ports!]
[JQ – OH YEAaaaaaaaaaa]
[Me – and I have a TON of cache!]
[DP – That’s what she said.]
[VR – Floopy!? LOL]

[2013-Aug-09 Fri 16:02ish]
– Installed OS in under 10 minutes!

[2013-Aug-09 Fri 16:14ish]
– Too funny! – Out of the box… The OS rates this as 1.0 in User Experience… Let’s see if I can do something about that…

[2013-Aug-09 Fri 16:23ish]
My current System Rates at 5.0… OOTB… New machine (Loong “Chinese Dragon name”) rates at 1.0… I have NOT even put in the OEM drivers yet, and it is still faster!

[2013-Aug-09 Fri 17:06ish]
First FB post from Loong!

[2013-Aug-09 Fri 20:17ish]
One has to LOVE a family that understands the deep and dark ritual of installing a new personal computer… The various incantations to be passed down from Father to Son… Well… It sounded good… Didn’t it?

[LS – No sons, but the ritual here is gun cleaning and fishing lol]
[Me – Damn GF! You know me too well!]
[MR – Starting from a baseline of Gregorian chant punctuated by outbursts of Tourette syndrome, right? Toned down to Donald Duck when the kids and/or wife are around…]
[Me –  Scary, but TRUE, I have SEVERAL CDs of Gregorian chants! and that is an AWESOME idea!]

[2013-Aug-09 Fri 21:25ish]
– WinTel 7 Pro {Up-to-Date}
– Asus Drivers {Issues}
– Installed Browser (IE, Firefox, Chrome)
– Installed JAVA
– Installed Adobe Flash

[2013-Aug-09 Fri 22:09ish]
– Upgrade BIOs 1007 x64 (05/17/2013) > 1205 (07/05/2013)

Issues
– Can’t Get into BIOs w/USB Keyboard (DEL and F2 keys)
-> Switch to PS/2 and into BIOs w/o Issue


If you happen to have any Tips or Ideas, PLEASE let me know!

Stay tuned for Updates as I go along!

- Andrew
§ § § § §

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Adobe Photoshop Retouching in Chester County PA

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New Computer Ordered

The last time that I bought a new computer, was back in late 2003, just before my daughter was born.

I remember say to my wife at the time, I had to purchase the computer because there was no telling the next time that I would be able to purchase a new one.

This time, instead of paying extra for a mainstream computer, I decided to go to a local computer builder, and have a custom unit built for me.

I ended up with a Pentium 4 on an Intel motherboard, 4GBs RAM and a 100GB HD for around $1000.

At the time, it was a very speedy machine, but after many years of service, and countless upgrades, the machine started to show its age when trying to run Windows XP, Office 2007 and Photoshop CS3.

So the hunt started for an upgrade, and I was able to finally scavenge a base Intel Core 2 6400 box, which I am still using to write this entry.

My biggest issue with this current machine, is that I am running into some compatibility issues with Camera Raw 7 after upgrading to Lightroom 5 and trying to move files into Photoshop CS5.

There is also the occasion, when working on larger 1+GB TIFF/PSD files, I simply run out of memory.

Then, about 2 weeks ago, after a tough budget negotiation, I was given the green light for a new machine!

Yeah!

Now the question was what to get!

I knew what I wanted a machine that could run Photoshop & Lightroom as the main applications, which meant as much CPU and RAM that I could get!

Like any computer geek, I fantasy configured systems on the major computer websites, and knew that they were way overpriced for what I wanted.

I wanted a custom-built machine, but how? Another Local vendor? or via the Internet…

Or myself, which I had never done before, even though I have fixed hundred of computers over the years!

I started to look at several ‘You Built It’ websites to get a very rough idea of price and configuration, and was quickly overwhelmed with the various configuration options!

It was time for a spreadsheet.

I listed the major components I wanted, and then I started to visited 5 different sites (ComputerLX.comMagicmicro.comNewEgg.comTigerDirect.com, Amazon.com), collecting prices and reviews.

Even for a seasoned computer person, the various chip sets and sockets available made my head spin! I spent countless hours reading the forums on Tom’s Hardware so that I could make as intelligent decisions as possible!

At some point, I came to the realization, that I was going to be building this machine myself, and I started to venture into YouTube land to learn more about the basics of my new DYI project.

Finally, after many hours of research and internal debate, I finally placed my order:

Stuff starts to arrive Wednesday!

I can’t wait!

- Andrew
§ § § § §
Adobe Photoshop Retouching in Chester County PA

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Triggertrap Mobile – Review

Background

For several years now, I have been doing more and more photography work in High Dynamic Range (HDR), and I have been trying to find a way to make the required bracketing easier and more efficient.

The Canon XTi does allow for auto bracketing, but only over three exposures.

120912 Marsh Creek Spillway hdr 12
120912 Marsh Creek Spillway hdr 12

I have been able to figure out ways to make it easier to get nine stops, but after that, it is not as automatic.

Back in 2010, when I was doing my covered bridges, it was not uncommon for me to do exposure bracket of 13 to 15 stops, and I would do this by manually making the three clicks, per stop, on the camera dial, and then trigger the exposure with my Canon Remote Switch RS60 E3.

The biggest problem I ran into when doing this method, was the potential for both camera shake on the tripod or misalignment due to movement on the tripod head and the only real way to find out if this has occurred, is when you are back at the office, while evaluating the images on a big screen.

I have also detected blurred images due to the mirror in the camera going up and down during exposure. As far as I know,  there is no way to lock the mirror “up” on the XTi.

Then in early August, while reading my Google+ page, I noticed one of my contacts had just received their “Trigger Happy Remote” and was excited to use it. I continued to read the comments, and someone also mentioned TriggerTrap.

In doing further investigation, I ended up writing the blog entry, “Searching for the Remote” in which I compare several different remote triggering devices.

After a couples of days, I was contacted by Haje Jan Kamps at Triggertrap.com, and was asked if I would be interested in doing a product review in exchange for a free set up.

I was all too happy to say Yes!

Equipment Used

  • Canon XTi (circa 2007)
  • iPod Touch / iOS 5.1.1
  • Bogen Model #3020 tripod
  • Tripodclamps.com RAP-B-121-UN7U Cell Phone Clamp

Connecting

When one does go to the Triggertrap.com website to purchase the dongle and cable, they will find a wizard that will walk them through the choice of a cable for their particular camera. In my case, a CL-E3 for the Canon XTi and iPod Touch.

While waiting for the cables to be delivered, you can download either the free or paid version of the software directly to your device, and begin to explore the application, and possibilities.

The website also offers several tutorial videos to help explain the various settings and modes available within the application. Some of the App screens may look a little different, and that is many due to the tutorials being done on an earlier version, but the concepts are the same.

Once you have the cables, you connect the dongle directly to your camera, and then the additional cabling directly into the iDevice/Android, and your ready to start!

Features & Testing

Needless to say, there are a lot of things that one can do with this system, and it is only really up to the imagination of the photographer, what they can do with it.

Here is a list of the Modes that are currently available, and I do plan to at least test all of them at some point, but there are definitely some that I do not see myself using.

Trigger Modes

Cable Release Mode (Free)

Works without issue, just make sure you are in Bulb mode

The cable release mode is by far the easiest mode to work with right out-of-the-box, and works just as you would expect it to.

Your iDevice  can be used as a simple remote trigger, two different types of bulb triggers and program mode.

Long Exposure HDR Mode (Paid)

Abandoned Paper Mill hdr 05
Abandoned Paper Mill hdr 05

This was the Mode that I really wanted to Test the most.

All you really need to do is to find your middle exposure, enter “it” into the App, select the number of Stops, and the EV value between the frames, and push the button, and sit back and relax.

There is no need to make the mental calculations or be present during the triggering operation!

Not having to stand at the tripod, allowed me to walk away, and scout for the next shoot!

Issues

When I first started to test this Mode in my office, I found that I was not getting the correct number of exposures within my requested bracket.

Doing some reading within the Triggertrap website, the issue seems to be related to the minimal exposure length supported on your camera in the Bulb setting.

Once I was in a situation where my minimal exposure length was greater than 1 second, I did not run into the issue again.

I do need to figure out a shooting workflow to get around this, and once I have, I’ll post it.

Motion Mode (Paid)

  • Tested
  • Undetermined at this time

When I first read about the various Modes available, this was another that piqued my interest.

The basic concept is that you register a base image into the iDevice, and if anything changes, trigger the camera.

Well, this did not work for me.

I could not get a preview, so I was unable to use this mode.

I did visit the support section of TriggerTrap, and really did not find anything that described my issue, and plan to post a question when I try again.

I do wonder, again, if it is the age of my equipment, so I am not writing off the whole mode. Maybe because the XTi does not support “Live View” could be the issue?

Time-lapse Mode (Free)

  • Have Not Tested
  • Long Term testing

I have ideas, but I’m not sure about letting my camera and equipment stay setup for that long.

Seismic Mode (Free)

  • Have Not Tested

Distance Lapse Mode (Paid)

  • Have Not Tested
  • Not likely to use

Eased Time-lapse Mode (Paid)

  • Have Not Tested
  • Long Term testing

LE HDR Time-lapse Mode (Paid)

  • Have Not Tested
  • Long Term testing

Tesla (magnetic sensor) Mode (Paid)

  • Have Not Tested
  • Long Term testing

Star Trail Mode (Paid)

  • Have Not Tested
  • Long Term testing

Peek-a-boo Mode (Paid)

  • Have Not Tested
  • Long Term testing

Bang (Sound Sensor) Mode (Paid)

  • Works

I have not really tested this Application to its fullest extent, but from my basic setting up the controls, I was able to trigger the camera when I snapped my figures or clapped my hands.

Conclusion

If you are doing HDR or Long Exposure photography, this iOS software application is well worth the look at, and it’s flexibility both in terms of Cameras and Modes makes it all the more interesting!

In terms of my favorite mode so far, the “Long Exposure HDR” Mode”, which to a HDR photographer, is almost as easy as ‘point-n-click’!

Tips and Tricks

If you really would like to make your life easier when working with iDevice and Tripod, I would strongly suggest that you take a look at the TripodClamps.com offerings.

In my case, I purchased a RAP-B-121-UN7U The RAM Universal X-Grip Cell Phone Holder, which at first I thought it was a little expensive, but after using the clamp with a TriggerTrap for a while, I found it well worth the worth the financial investment.

– Andrew
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